Welcome to Week 12. The format of this column is going to look a little different this week due to a couple of things. First of all, the normal author, Andrew Katz, has the week off as he welcomes a new member to his family. So congrats to Andrew!
We’re also going to deviate from the normal process and instead break down the Thanksgiving Day slate in its entirety. If you’ve never played in small slates like this one before, the most important thing I can recommend is to mind your bankroll. These tournaments are incredibly hard to crack. Ownership percentages will be clustered around three or four players, but it’s the under the radar guys that can swing cash lines. You’ll want to target one or two of them for sure. Mostly though, the chalk plays can’t be ignored. Just don’t increase your bankroll much in order to play this slate. It’s fun to win a little cash while enjoying the holiday, but it’s not fun to tank your bankroll before the weekend even starts.
Detroit Lions vs Minnesota Vikings
Over/Under: 43, Spread: Lions -2.5
Projected Team Totals: Detroit 22.5, Minnesota 20.5
If there is a game to completely avoid in the Thanksgiving Day slate, it’s this one. When these teams met a few weeks ago, they combined for 38 points and a little over 640 total yards. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a similar performance as the Lions complete the sweep. Their defense—one of the best plays on the board at $4,700—has been a target all season, but now that they have both Darius Slay and DeAndre Levy healthy, things are different. In fact, both defenses are in play even if the Vikings ($4,600) haven’t been as dominate over the last few weeks. Both defenses will be popular but it’s okay to ignore ownership percentages of a one-off position in a three-game slate. We might get some relief in that category depending on the quarterback situation in Indianapolis.
I still like Stefon Diggs ($6,600) to be the top target and don’t assume he’ll be shadowed by Slay. Diggs will be a chalky play but should see double-digit targets. He was targeted 14 time and caught 13 of them for 80 yards against the Slay-less Lions back in Week 9. That’s likely his ceiling unless he returns a touchdown on special teams (stack him with the Vikings’ defense).
Editor's note - Reports late Wednesday indicate that Diggs may not be able to suit up for Thursday's contest. Be sure to check inactives, but if Diggs is indeed out, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and Cordarrelle Patterson will all see an increase in targets, with the biggest net change for Patterson, who may be thrust into a starting role.
If you’re looking for a contrarian quarterback, Sam Bradford is on Line 2. The Lions have allowed the third most FanDuel points per game to passers, and even being as healthy as they have been all season last week, they permitted 14.38 points to Blake Bortles. Oddly enough, that’s how many points Bradford has averaged a game this season. That score would put him at just over 2x value expectations. I don’t love it, but stacking Bradford with Diggs is a good way to avoid the crowd.
Or stacking him with Kyle Rudolph, who easily has the best matchup on the board for tight ends. The Lions aren’t allowing a ton of yards to the position but they can’t keep them out of the end zone. They’ve allowed eight touchdowns, the second most in the league. There are only two other tight ends the crowd is going to be interested in so Rudolph will have low ownership and is a must-start if you do take the Bradford bait.
I don’t love any particular player for the Lions’ offense. There’s no reason to start Matthew Stafford ($7,900) or his receivers. The Vikings’ defense, although not performing well as of late, is still one of the best in the league. Their biggest weakness is on the ground, particularly to pass-catching running backs. They’ve allowed the 12th most receiving yards and three touchdowns to running backs as receivers. So Theo Riddick ($6,400) is definitely in play for the Lions. His 43 receptions ranks third at the position and his four receiving scores are tied with James White for the most. However, the lack of touchdown potential generally means he should be avoided unless it’s full PPR.
The sneakiest play of all might be Eric Ebron ($6,000). Over his last three games he has 23 targets, 17 receptions, and 241 yards—good enough for the fourth most yards and the third most fantasy points per game of all tight ends during that stretch. The Vikings, although stingy in the end zone, have allowed the sixth most yards to the position. I like Ebron to be the top receiver for the Lions on Thursday.
Dallas Cowboys vs Washington
Over/Under: 51, Spread: Cowboys -7
Projected Team Totals: Dallas 29, Washington 22
It’s safe to say that if Andrew Luck is ruled out, this game will have the most exposure of offensive players, starting with Ezekiel Elliott ($8,600). He’s as much of a no-brainer play as there has been all season. He’s a “set it and forget it” player. Don’t get cute. Don’t worry about the fact that he’ll be nearly 85% owned. Don’t overthink this. Washington allowed 15.6 points to James Starks last week and allowed the Bengals’ pair to combine for 26.9 points a couple of weeks ago. Overall, only six teams have allowed more fantasy points per game. But none of this matters because you’re playing Elliott almost regardless of opponent.
Sticking on the Cowboys’ side of the ball, I’m a little worried about Josh Norman shadowing Dez Bryant ($8,000) and doing everything to get Bryant off of his game both physically and mentally. When these two players clashed last Thanksgiving (when Norman was still with the Panthers), Bryant was held without a catch in the first half and, despite leading the team in targets with eight, only managed 26 yards on two catches. But we can draw optimism from Week 2 when Bryant faced the Norman-led Washington secondary and caught seven of his 12 targets for 102 yards. Washington didn’t move Norman around the formation in that game until the second half. At this point, it’s hard to say if he’ll shadow Bryant. Personally, I’m not worried about it. Bryant is the superior player so long as his head doesn’t get in the way.
Outside of Bryant and Elliott, there is certainly a case to be made for Dak Prescott ($8,000) as your quarterback. Prescott is QB8 in terms of FanDuel points per game. He has four games with at least three total touchdowns and seven with at least two. Check out his game logs:
On average, he is hitting 2.86x value. The schedule has been kind to him but it’s clear he is going to hit value regardless of opponent. The Cowboys’ defense isn’t good so this game should flirt with shootout potential. With a small slate, there will be lots of stacking, so a Cowboys power stack of Prescott, Elliott and Bryant is a good idea. You can even take a look at Jason Witten ($5,600), who has a great matchup. Only three teams have allowed more FanDuel points per game to tight ends than Washington. Witten is one of your top contrarian options as most of the crowd is going to be on Jordan Reed.
Speaking of, Reed will likely hit 80% ownership. He is the top target for Kirk Cousins and will be the top target for the crowd. I like Reed a lot but the matchup is more favorable for Jamison Crowder ($6,300). There was a time when Orlando Scandrick was one of the best slot corners in the league, but he has struggled mightily since his injury. Slot receivers that have excelled against this defense recently include Steve Smith (19.9 points), Eli Rogers (12.2 points), and Jordan Matthews (18 points). This is notable as Crowder usually plays from the slot. Since Week 7, only Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, and Julio Jones have scored more FanDuel points per game than Crowder. In case you weren’t sure, that’s some fantastic company to be in. Get him in your lineup.
In fact, get Cousins ($7,400) in your lineup too and take advantage of that entire offense. He’s the cheapest quarterback on the board not named Bradford. Cousins comes into Week 12 averaging the 10th most FanDuel points per game, has thrown for the third most yards, has the eighth highest completion percentage on the seventh most attempts, and his 17 passing touchdowns is tied for the 12th most. The Cowboys, though middle of the road in raw stats, have allowed the second highest completion percentage to opposing passers. Pending Luck’s status, Cousins is the best play on the board that gives you a relatively cheap option in a high-scoring game and a solid matchup. He’s my top quarterback.
In summary, this is the best game to stack even if the Colts/Steelers looks better on paper. I’ll plug in Cowboys running backs and tight ends with Cousins and his receivers and maybe one of the kickers in this game. Oh, and if you’re considering Robert Kelley for some salary relief, don’t. Just pay up for the top running backs and move on.
Indianapolis Colts vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Over/Under: 53.5, Spread: Steelers -3
Projected Team Totals: Steelers 28.25, Colts 25.25
The line and projected point totals will likely shift drastically from the time of this writing to the moment Luck is officially declared out due to concussion. That’s a major bummer as this game would have had massive exposure and kept the Cowboys contest somewhat in check. As things stand, without Luck, I’m having a hard time considering any of the Colts skill position players. You can still make a case for Frank Gore ($6,500), who is rewriting our perspectives and expectations of old running backs. The Steelers biggest weakness is against pass-catching backs. Gore has always been great out of the backfield as a receiver, and with Luck most likely unavailable, it’s not hard to imagine Gore getting a ton of touches regardless of game script. There is some concern that he didn’t get goal line work last week, but that was an outlier.
However, paying up for elite running backs has worked all season and I’ll be going back to that well. Le'Veon Bell is a must-play. Just build your rosters around him and Elliott and figure out something else for receivers. The need to run an up-tempo offense for the Steelers isn’t going to exist without a competitive Colts’ offense. As such, Ben Roethlisberger’s ($8,500) ceiling is limited (he’s also playing on the road, for those of you who care about home/road splits), and Antonio Brown ($8,800) may not see as much volume as he normally would. He also has a tough matchup against Vontae Davis, but obviously, Brown is one of the best option regardless of who he is playing against. If Luck were playing, Brown would be a must-start, but without a shootout, I’d rather target the receivers facing Dallas.
All that said, the Steelers will still have to throw the ball sometimes and I do like Eli Rogers ($5,400) given his price and likely low ownership. The Colts’ defense in general is a good target as they’ve allowed the ninth most yards per game to receivers. But their true weakness is against running backs, particularly those that can catch, as they’ve allowed the most receiving touchdowns and 10th most receiving yards. So again, Bell is a must-play. Stack him with the Steelers’ defense and move on with your life. Rogers is your salary relief guy.
If Luck does somehow play, I’m loading up on the Steelers’ offense and maybe considering Donte Moncrief ($6,900) as the main end zone threat. In fact, I still like Moncrief even without Luck, but the guy that might benefit the most, Gore notwithstanding, is jack Doyle ($4,800). Inexperienced quarterbacks tend to look underneath for big tight ends, so I would not be surprised to see Doyle heavily involved as receiver.
Don’t get cute with Scott Tolzien. He hasn’t played a single snap in the regular season since Week 16 of last year. If the Steelers’ defense was more passer friendly (they rank 23rd in FanDuel points allowed per game), I’d be more into that. But the upside just isn’t there.
- Start both Elliott and Bell and don’t think twice about it.
- Crowder, Diggs, Rogers and even Pierre Garcon are great plays that I’m building around.
- Cousins is the top quarterback unless Luck is cleared. If Luck is cleared, Roethlisberger is the top play, but just barely. You want one of these three if Luck plays.
- This is the most expensive Prescott has been all season. I think that’s reason enough to avoid him.
- The best contrarian stack is Bradford/Diggs/Rudolph. But it terrifies me.
- Tournaments might be decided by kickers. Dan Bailey looks like a great option. As does Matt Prater.
Editor's notes - Andrew Luck is already delcared out, and now reports late Wednesday indicate that Diggs may not be able to suit up for Thursday's contest. Be sure to check inactives.
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